I'm having a hard time making the transition from football to basketball. The joy and euphoria of the MSU football team's accomplishments in 2013 still consume me.
But Big Ten action is underway for the Spartan basketball team. They opened up play on New Year's Eve at Penn State: a game in which MSU started off sluggish in the first half but completely shut down the Nittany Lions in the second half. Today, the Spartans are on the road for again, this time against Indiana. Though the Hoosiers are in a rebuilding year, Assembly Hall is a notoriously difficult place for visiting teams. I see this game as a dogfight, with the Spartans probably pulling away late--but I wouldn't be shocked at all if Indiana pulled the upset.
Back in November, I was the lucky beneficiary of a $50 gift card. I knew immediately what I wanted to use it on: something I'd wanted to obtain for a year, but never had due to its high cost (and some people not getting the hint during holiday seasons): Jack Ebling's book about the Michigan State football renaissance, Heart of a Spartan. As luck would have it, the $50 gift card covered the price of the book.
I've been reading the book here-and-there since November. I had to take a break from reading it during the twelve days I was on vacation in late November (it's far too large of a book to take on any travels), and only got to it a few times during the hectic Christmas holiday.
The book is good. Jack Ebling is a talented and insightful writer, and few people are as well-versed on MSU sports history and lore as he. The book is also chock full of outstanding color photographs. My only criticisms are that Jack takes a few too many potshots at "that school down the road," and the book could have used a better copy editor. There are far too many typographical errors littered throughout the text. In fact, there are so many typos that I wonder if the services of an editor were actually used at all.
It also seems that much of the book was taken from Ebling's blog posts on the Red Cedar Message Board, as he makes a few references to "this board." For readers not familiar with the online Spartan Tailgate and Red Cedar Message Board, this may be confusing.
Quibbling aside, Heart of a Spartan is a well-written and fascinating look into the program that Mark Dantonio has built at MSU, and is full of emotional stories of what makes this football program so special. I just finished reading the chapter about Arthur Ray, Jr.'s struggles with cancer, and the 2011 game against Youngstown State in which Ray's roommate and friend Joel Foreman voluntarily ended his consecutive start streak so that Arthur Ray could start the game against Youngstown State. It is such an amazing tale of bravery, selflessness, and friendship and I will admit I was teary-eyed.
Heart of a Spartan is a must-own for any MSU football fan. And, no, Jack Ebling didn't pay me to say that.